Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com. Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and the Ellie Sweet books (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website including the free novella, Throwing Stones.
I've never had a writing mentor. I wouldn't be opposed to it. Quite the opposite, really. But the right person/situation has never presented itself.
In John Maxwell's book The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth, I came across his views on how the mentoring relationship should work, and I thought this was such a smart
When you're looking for someone to mentor you, he suggests trying to find someone who is two or three steps ahead of you on the same track. For example, I'm sure I could benefit from Stephen King mentoring me. He, however, is about a thousand steps ahead of me in the business. So much of his career wouldn't apply to where I am now, and for that reason, I could likely benefit more from having a mentor who is a YA writer with a couple bestselling novels. Make sense?
These are the traits Maxwell suggests we look for in mentors:
- A worthy example: Is this someone you want to be like?
- Availability: Do they have time for you? Or is their schedule already too loaded down?
- Proven experience: Can they actually do what it is you're trying to learn? If I'm wanting to be a bestselling novelist, then I need a bestselling novelist to mentor me on how to accomplish this.
- Willingness to be supportive: Do they have your best interest at heart?
- Coaching skills: Not everyone is cut out to be a teacher. I had two friends in high school who were brilliant. If I needed homework help, one of them was happy to sit down with me and try to explain how to do the assignment. The other would get very annoyed and impatient after about two questions. You need someone who has the heart of a teacher.
After someone has agreed to mentor you, this is the approach Maxwell suggests for meeting with them:
- Ask them 3-5 questions.
- Apply their answers to your situation.
- Don't ask for another meeting until you've done what they suggested.
- Start your next meeting by talking about how you applied their advice.
I like how this is so respectful of everybody's time. Have you ever had a friend who asked for your advice with how to handle a problem, but then when you gave them advice, they only ignored it and continued to complain that things weren't getting any better? Mentoring relationships can quickly deteriorate into this if the mentee isn't following through on their part of the deal.
Or have you ever had someone who didn't bother to get to know you and your goals, but seemed to love giving you advice anyway? Using the method above where you ask specific but limited questions can help keep a long-winded mentor on track as well.
I think this action plan also addresses what a mentor is not. They're not your golden ticket. They're not your "in" with a particular editor or agent. They're not someone who is doing the work for you. They should be someone who advises you and guides you based on their experience and your desires.
How long should a mentorship last?
This varies. Maybe you're just having coffee together one time. Or maybe the person is mentoring you just for one project, a summer, or a year. This is a good thing to discuss ahead of time so that you both have similar expectations going into the relationship.
Using Maxwell's "two to three steps ahead of you on the same path" principle, who would you ask to sit and have coffee with so you could pick their brain about writing?